NOPA is the kind of neighborhood place that every hound wants to live near. Delicious, approachable food, generous portions, fair prices, friendly staff and an awesome bar.
Started with the wild salmon carpaccio which was one of the bigger carpaccio portions I've seen. The fish was paper thin and full of flavor and paired well with the scattered arugula. The ingredients were well balanced with just enought arugula to give the dish a kick without overpowering the salmon's flavors with bitterness.
We had the lamb riblets which bordered an entree portion in size. The lamb had a crispy outside layer and the inside was a melt in your mouth braise. I believe they braise and then fry them to achieve that texture. The sauce had just the right amount of spice to it. The was my favorite dish of the evening and I couldn't stop eating it so I sucked the marrow out of the bones.
I commented that I was getting full, which never happens after two apps. For a Cal-Cuisine/New American restaurant, the portions are huge. So keep that in mind; you don't need the usual app+entree per person to leave here full. But we didn't know this when we ordered so we proceeded to stuff ourselves silly.
I always feel silly ordering chicken at a good restaurant but the rotisserie chicken has received rave reviews. What can I say? This is everything rotisserie chicken should be. Crispy skin, tender meat and a delicious au jus. Up there with the best rotisserie chicken I've had. I also really enjoyed the wax beans with walnut pesto as a break to the meat.
I'm really picky about my pork, but a lot of reviews had played up the pork chop and our server's enthusiasm sold me on it. It was a fantastic chop: smokey sear, tender, flavorful meat and nice fat distribution. But what made this dish special was the Frog Hollow peaches it was served with. I love the combination of fruit and meat when it is done right and the sweet, acidic peaches brought the pork to the next level. As with all things, they were generous with the peach slices so that there was enough to enjoy for the whole meal. Add to that the mixed greens salad with house made LARDONS and you can understand my enthusiasm.
Overcooked meat is the bane of my existence so I was thrilled that both the chicken and the pork chop were a healthy pink. Here are some chefs who want us to taste our food, right on! And don't even say the word salmonella to me, when you're using good quality meat that isn't from a filthy, factory farm you don't need to cook it to death.
So we were stuffed. I mean really, really stuffed. At this point, we understood why they never brought us bread, it would have been a waste of space (I'm trying to remember which food blogger said, "bread is the silent killer of a good meal.") But it's impossible for me to eat a good meal and not try a little dessert. So we went for the blackberry crostata with lemon cream. It was good, there was some nice tartness to it, the crust was flakey. Maybe a little too sweet for my taste, but I was honestly too full to give it a fair judgement. I'd order dessert again after a less enormous meal.
The apps are the strongest part of the menu. The entrees were good, and nice and big, but the apps were more memorable. I could easily see myself making a meal out of the apps, something I never do because app portions are so often tiny. And although I wasn't too interested in the rest of the entree menu, I could have happily ordered all of the apps (lamb sausage flatbread! fried anchovies! arugula with house cured bacon! I could go on...) I think the ideal amount of food for two would be three apps and an entree, or even just five apps.
All that plus three drinks was $80 before tip. Totally reasonable, and it would be easy to shave $10-$20 off that bill by not eating like complete pigs (we've been clutching our bellies all night). If I was in the neighborhood, I would be a regular. But even though NOPA requires a drive across the bridge I will return. NOPA definitely deserves all the praise it receives.
I'd like to add that I finally got Fast Track and I feel like a complete idiot for spending all these years sitting in bridge traffic. Travel time from Berkeley to SF: 25 minutes. I'm excited because this means I'll be dining in the city more often.